Goo Goo Dolls have a long history with The Land.
Before releasing ‘90s radio rock hits “Name” and “Iris,” the band — then a trio including singer-guitarist John Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac and drummer George Tutuska — would often cram its gear into a car and make the three-hour trek from their hometown of Buffalo to Cleveland. The group’s early punk sound probably fit in surprisingly well at the now-defunct Peabody’s Down Under, where the group played its first Cleveland show in 1990.
“We were kids,” says Takac. “Cleveland was always really supportive of us.”
Nearly two decades later, the Midwesterners are on the road again for their first tour since 2019. Two days after gracing Cleveland’s Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on Aug. 10, the band plans to release its newest record, Chaos in Bloom.
Largely conceived and recorded amid the pandemic, the album reflects on the hardships amplified by COVID-19. Songs like “Let the Sun” explore inequality, while “Loving Life” tackles the band’s disenchantment and search for hope within the current social landscape. Despite these weightier themes, the album comes packaged neatly in a pop-rock bow, equipped with sharp sarcasm and stadium-ready choruses.
Before you catch the group’s return to Northeast Ohio, we caught up with the Goo Goo Dolls bassist and co-founder to talk about post-pandemic touring, balancing new and old music, and rocking in Cleveland through the years.
Cleveland Magazine: This is your first full-fledged tour since 2019, how are you guys feeling going back on the road after all this time?
Robby Takac: I feel like the pandemic has been an unbelievable disruption to what we're used to. You know, we are always playing. We're always touring. And we sat home long enough for me to grow tomatoes twice. Long time. While it was nice to be home and be with my daughter for a while, it really threw a disruption into the rhythm of our lives. I'm really looking forward to kind of getting back into that rhythm again. And you know, just feeling like things are a little bit more back to normal.
CM: Is there any worry of feeling rusty, or is it simply back to business as usual?
RT: I don't think that we feel rusty. For the past six months, we've been doing three or four gigs a month, you know, just here and there, so I don't feel that at all. But I do feel like there are unbelievable wildcards thrown into the workings of things with COVID right now. Sometimes people just have to disappear [if they test positive]. And it's happened a few times, even in the lead up to this tour. We're real careful to be able to cover all those things, but that's the only thing that kind of makes me a little nervous about this trip. We're going to try to safeguard ourselves from the pitfalls and consequences of those types of things.
CM: For the upcoming tour, you have your newest album to promote and a laundry list of iconic hits like “Slide” and “Iris” people want to hear — how do you strike a balance between the fresh and the iconic when building your set list?
RT: That's always the dance that you do with folks, you know? You [have] to be careful and conscious about how you put yourself together. People will listen and enjoy a new song — you just can't hit them over the head with them. Keep bringing it back to something they know and something that feels right, something that feels comfortable, and they can try something new again. But yeah, I think that becomes an issue with a band like us. We've been around for long enough and put out enough singles that there are a lot of songs people want to hear. Interesting problem to have, though, for sure.
CM: How does it feel pulling out those classic hits today?
RT: I think if you lose touch with the magic or the joy or just the miracle that happens when people are all on the same page and singing a song together — I think if you lose the magic of that, then this job is pretty weird. That’s why we get into this. That's why everybody gets into this to begin with. And I think if you lose that then this is a really miserable existence.
CM: Moving from the old to the new, tell us about the new album coming.
RT: We started the record during the pandemic, and everything was locked down. That process hadn't been that insulated since we were kids. [We] just went in together and made a record. John Rzeznik chose to produce the record, which gave us the ability to have a producer who wasn't on a clock like most of the producers are. He could experiment with an awful lot of things and try an awful lot of different things and go a lot of places that he had never been before. I think that there's a lot more purity of process with this record than there's been with the past records.
CM: Before the upcoming show, are there any stories or memories you can share from gigging in Cleveland over the years?
RT: We played Peabody’s when we were kids. When was it? 1990 that we played Peabody’s down under? [Editor’s Note: It was Nov. 18, 1990.] That was our first time down there. We were kind of staying at people's houses and stuff. I just remember that we would come through in the early ‘90s before “Name” or anything even came out. Cleveland was always really supportive of us. Once “Name” came out, we were able to get on some of those radio shows and stuff and that opened up a whole new world to us. We've always had an amazing time. You know, it's been one of the places that we can throw all our gear in the back of our cars and get to in a few hours, so there were always opportunities for us there.